Longtime shrine lector Tony Tringale turns old apple farm into small business

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Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Tony Tringale often has apples on his mind. But while the folk hero was known for dispersing apple seeds, Tringale has spent much of his life spreading the word of God as a longtime lector at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Sitting in his window-filled home in Front Royal, located atop a mountain sprinkled with apple trees, Tringale spoke of his faith and the apple business he started "pretty much by accident."

If there's any continuity between lectoring and his business, called "Tony T's Apple Farm and Kitchen," it might be the woman whose photo sits on Tringale's mantel: his beloved mother.

"My mother was very devout," said the 73-year-old parishioner of St. Bridget of Ireland Mission in Berryville. "And wow, she was an excellent cook."

Seeds planted

Both Tringale's parents were Italian, and he spent his childhood surrounded by rich food and Catholicism in Syracuse, N.Y. His mother was a model of faithfulness, and his father "was never a Sunday-go-to-church Catholic, but he led a very Christian life," said Tringale.

Growing up, the smell of steaming meatballs and sausage often filled his house. "I've always enjoyed baking and cooking, thanks to my mother," Tringale said. He recalls his mother once telling him, "Son, if you like to eat, you'd better know how to cook."

Tringale's debut as a lector came in 1960, while he was studying at Georgetown University and living in Arlington. A professor and parishioner of St. Ann Church in Arlington invited him to read during Masses at the parish, and it was a great fit. Tringale's faith was as strong as his voice, and lectoring became a constant even as his life got busier.

After graduation, Tringale began a long and successful career in insurance and "had a wonderful time" raising four children in Northern Virginia. He was involved with everything from the Knights of Columbus and charity work to various community boards.

It was busyness with a purpose.

"I've always had a philosophy in life that we all have a responsibility to family, church, industry and country," said Tringale. "And I've tried to be in organizations and activities that honored that."

Scripture brought to life

Traveling on business trips, Tringale never missed Mass. Before the liturgy began, he'd go back to the sacristy and ask the priest if he needed help with lectoring. Over the years, Tringale would proclaim Scripture at churches in countless cities, including Rome.

In 1980, while attending Mass at the national shrine, Tringale made his usual offer.

"I went back to the sacristy and asked if they had lectors for the Mass," he said. "Of course they did, but (they) suggested I contact them to schedule an audition to be a future lector."

Tringale did just that, and for the next 25 years he served as a lector at the largest church in North America. Twice a month he'd read from the marble lectern at a Sunday Mass, looking out at priests and religious, Catholic University students and professors, local residents, and pilgrims from around the world.

To prepare to lector, Tringale went over a reading four or five times, fully internalizing the meaning and making sure he could pronounce difficult names. Being Italian, "I tend to put Italian accents on them," he admitted, laughing.

Tringale thought about the context in which the Scripture passage was written and how best to convey its message.

"You don't have to act, but you want to put feeling into it," he said.

His favorite liturgies at the shrine were the Easter Vigil and Christmas Eve Mass. Tringale especially loves the reading from Exodus about Moses parting the sea. "It's dramatic and complicated," he said.

Corinthians holds a special place in his heart, as well. St. Paul, though, "should have been given a bag of commas and periods," Tringale joked.

During his years lectoring at the shrine, the site became the location of one of his most treasured moments.

One weekend after Mass while his parents were visiting, Tringale explained to Msgr. Roger Roensch, a close friend and then director of the shrine's pilgrimage office, that his dad had not been to confession in a long time.

"I'll take him for a walk," Tringale recalled Msgr. Roensch saying. His dad and the monsignor then disappeared for 15 minutes as they walked around the shrine. When they returned, Msgr. Roensch turned to Tringale, who is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and said, "He's OK. Why don't you give your dad Communion?"

Moments later, in the shrine's Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Tringale offered his father the Eucharist. "Dad was in his late 80s, and it was the first time he'd had Communion in 20-30 years," he said, wiping away tears. "It was very special."

In addition to lectoring, Tringale was a longtime coordinator for the shrine's annual Christmas dinner, a meal provided for the poor and for those who otherwise would be alone.

"In many respects," said Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the shrine, "Tony proclaimed the word and lived the word he proclaimed by performing one of the corporal works of mercy."

Ripe for a change

In 2004, Tringale decided he wanted to be farther from the fast-paced life of the Washington region and closer to nature. So after "quasi retiring," he purchased five acres of land in Front Royal. Buttressing Shenandoah National Forest, his house has a breathtaking and nearly 360-degree view of trees and farmland.

The property had been part of a large apple farm established in 1911, but the trees on Tringale's mountaintop land had not been tended since the 1990s.

Tringale decided to care for the orchard but do it minimally. "It was never premeditated that I was going to make this an apple orchard again," he said. Over time, though, Tringale found himself immersed in apple farming.

He replaced old trees and had the soil tested to ensure he could grow organically. Two hives house bees that pollinate the 200 trees, which bear varieties such as Yellow Delicious, Red Delicious and Sheep's Nose, an heirloom apple originating in New England.

Eventually Tringale began making apple cider from the fruit, squeezing out the juice with a traditional wooden press. His small business grew, and Tony T's Apple Farm and Kitchen now offers homemade goodies like orange walnut cake, chocolate chip cookies, dumplings and pies at farmers markets in Front Royal and The Plaines.

It's not a lucrative business and it's hard work: Twice a month he's in the kitchen baking from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Yet Tringale, who stopped lectoring at the shrine in 2005 but regularly reads at St. Bridget, finds his rural life satisfying. Farmers markets give him a chance to socialize with neighbors and enjoy the friendliness of Front Royal. "Life is slower here and everybody knows everybody," he said.

"You can be close to God anywhere," Tringale said. "But when you are in this kind of environment, you do feel closer in a special way." People become justifiably busy raising families and building careers, he added, "but we all need to take time to stop and smell the roses - no, stop and pray - and to be appreciative of what we see."

With his lectoring and his apple-baking business, Tringale has a legacy of helping others appreciate both God's spoken word and His created world - and some of the scrumptious goodies that can be made from its abundance.

Scott can be reached at kscott@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @KScottACH.

Find out more

To learn more about Tony T's Apple Farm and Kitchen and where and when you can buy Tringale's goodies, go to apple--farm.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016